A new study concludes that caring for a grandchild could prevent loneliness and isolation that might come with age.

By Maressa Brown
December 20, 2019
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Now parents—aka potential grandparents—have even more reason to get pumped for the day they have a grandchild, thanks to the conclusion of a new study published online in the latest issue of BMJ Open. Based on 2014 data, collected as part of an ongoing survey of German adults, the main takeaway is that caring for a grandchild appears to reduce loneliness and social isolation for older adults.

The survey used by the researchers covered nearly 3,900 grandparents. More than 1,100 said that they cared for a grandchild. The grandparents took tests on loneliness and social isolation, and those who had grandkids to care for scored lower. These subjects also had a larger social network than those who didn't care for grandchildren.

The grandparents who didn't care for a grandchild had higher loneliness scores and were in contact with fewer people who they said are important to them, the study authors said.

Study author Eleanor Quirke of the department for health economics and health services research at Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital, and colleagues even took into account factors like marital status, domestic arrangements, household income, self-rated health, physical activity levels, and depressive symptoms, and the results remained the same. The study did not control, however, for how close grandparents live to their grandkids or how often they provided care.

Another interesting point, according to the BMJ Open news release: Grandparents who felt less lonely and isolated to start with might have been more likely to actively care for a grandchild.

They point out that while the conclusion isn't necessarily that caring for a grandchild directly leads to less loneliness, it seems there's an association.

The bottom line, according to Quirke's team: "Assisting their families to balance work and family by providing supplementary grandchild care may boost grandparents' self-esteem, and may also facilitate ongoing positive relationships with their children and grandchildren. Moreover, caring for grandchildren may also expand the social circle of grandparents and allow for further opportunities to establish relationships with other parents or grandparents."

That said, they warn that if a grandparent is called on too frequently to care for their grandchild, that positive effect might wear off. So, as many parents already know, when it comes to involving the grandparents in a child's care, there's a delicate balance.